The family of Gregory Longenecker says the 51-year-old's civil rights were violated by authorities who crushed him to death with a bulldozer last year while trying to arrest him for growing fewer than a dozen marijuana plants, according to a federal lawsuit.
Longenecker, a short-order cook from Reading, Pa., had allegedly been secretly growing 10 pot plants deep in the woods of a game preserve in Berks County when a game commission employee discovered his car and called the police, the Washington Post reported. When they arrived, a friend who was accompanying Longenecker that day was arrested, but the life-long Grateful Dead fan fled into the heavy underbrush of the preserve.
An hours-long search ensued, with a helicopter tracking Longenecker's movements from above and two police departments combing the land, which was so thick with vegetation that a tracking dog could not even get through, according to the Post. The game commissioner who discovered Longenecker's plants had been driving a bulldozer, and one police officer, identified as Mark Weiss, reportedly got on the heavy machinery in an attempt to get through the landscape.
What happened next is hotly debated -- Pennsylvania State Trooper David Boehm first said Longenecker could not have died in a pursuit because there was no pursuit. Then, authorities concluded it was possible Longenecker had a heart attack while running from police. Next, Cops said they needed to use a bulldozer because "there's no way that you could walk through that stuff," the Washington Post reported.
One thing is certain: an autopsy revealed that Longenecker died of traumatic injuries, as "virtually all" of the bones and organs in his body from his pelvis to collar bone were "crushed, broken, and /or lacerated." An investigation by the Berks County District Attorney ruled his death as accidental.
Longenecker's family argues in the lawsuit that police knew the approximate area where he was, because troopers allegedly shouted over a PA system in the helicopter, "I see you lying there! Get up!"
The bulldozer, "with similar force and characteristics of a military tank," allegedly continued to move towards Longenecker "knowing that he was lying in that area and also knowing they could not see in front of them," the lawsuit says.
Longenecker was known by family and friends as an avid vegetable gardener and loving father figure to the children of his girlfriend and "soulmate" of 25 years, according to the Post. They say they want police to be held accountable for their "reckless" decision to use a bulldozer while trying to find Longenecker.
"They killed a beautiful human being, a caring, loving man," said Longenecker's uncle, Mike Carpenter, who's named as a plaintiff in the federal suit. "He'll never be able to share his life with us, or us with him, again. For no reason. He wasn't hurting anyone."
Medical use of marijuana was legalized in Pennsylvania 2016, and possession of small amounts of the drug is decriminalized in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. However, recreational use and growing the plant is still illegal in most of the state.
The local chapter of the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws slammed the police department and called their actions that day excessive force in an extreme manner. They said they believe if Longenecker had been arrested, charged and convicted, his sentence would most likely have been probation.
"No matter your opinion on marijuana legalization, the penalty for growing cannabis should never be an extrajudicial death sentence," NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement.
Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams has spoken out in defense of the officers involved and said that Longenecker's family would have still been angry if he had only been injured and not killed, according to the Post. He added that the efforts of police were "reasonable and conducted in a safe manner."